Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Skinny Shepherd's Pie

Denny's been sick so I'm making comfort food these days.  What he wants when he feels bad is creamed chicken and mashed potatoes. In our house, 'creamed' means a white sauce made with fat-free dairy.  The flour thickens it enough without the fat and calories of cream. 


But Denny was miserable and I wanted to make  something special for him.  So I did what any loving wife who lives half an hour from the grocery store would do.  I rummaged in the fridge.

And came up with leftover poached turkey with broth plus a bowl of mashed potatoes.  Voila! Major components of Skinny Shepherd's Pie.  If you don't have the chicken lying around, buy a rotisserie chicken and low-sodium broth or poach some boneless chicken breasts in water with a bay leaf and thyme.


My recipe is adapted from the WeightWatchers New Complete Cookbook.  It tastes good, won't clog  arteries and is easy once you find the cooked chicken, broth and mashed potatoes in your refrigerator.

The casserole comes out of the oven with a golden crust and a good-food smell that will pull your family to the table.

Skinny Shepherd's Pie
4 Servings
1 Tblsp olive oil
2 Tblsp flour
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper 
1 tsp dried Bouquet Garni mix, or your favorite herbs
1/2 tsp dried thyme

2 cups cubed cooked chicken/turkey breast
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cups frozen cut vegetables (I used a mix of carrots, peas, lima beans, corn and green beans)
1/2 cup evaporated skim milk, or fat-free half'n'half
1 Tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp paprika
2 cups mashed potatoes 
     I like Yukon Gold potatoes for the richness.  I make a lumpy mash with skins on, using low-fat milk or fat-free half'n'half to moisten and a small bit of light butter and shredded parmesan cheese mashed in after the milk.  Good texture, not too many calories.

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400F degrees; spray a 2-quart casserole with nonstick cooking spray.

Put the frozen vegetables and minced onion in a bowl, microwave until vegetables are thawed and onion is softened, approximately 2 minutes.


Heat olive oil in a medium nonstick saucepan over medium heat.  Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. flour; cook, stirring constantly, until lightly gold.  Whisk in the broth, salt, pepper, Bouquet Garni and thyme, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened, 3-4 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken and the remaining tablespoon of flour.  Stir in the vegetables and onion, sauce, and milk.  Transfer to the casserole.

Top with the potatoes, spreading to cover the filling completely; sprinkle with the cheese and paprika.


Bake until bubbling and the potatoes are golden, 30-35 minutes.


You can roast broccoli or brussels sprouts at the same time to round out the meal.  

We drank herbal tea with dinner but I'd bet on a chardonnay as a good wine match.
Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bluebonnet Legacy


 Where flowers bloom so does hope. 
Lady Bird Johnson

 Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

You Never Know

I like not knowing the future.  The daily good is a fresh joy, the ill is bearable in the increment. 

We didn't know Harry had gotten sick until he quit eating last week.

He's been with me 20 years; I've lived with this cat longer than I lived with my family. 

He was the cat whose warmth eased the pain after my breast cancer operation.  And he's the one who, even in old age, has what Denny calls "good cat skills" from his street-cat days, to the extent that we two full-grown adults pay someone else to clip his claws, and donate their blood in the process.

We took him to the vet when he quit eating.  He had a nasty abscess, with fever and  tooth problems.  I don't know how I didn't see the swelling before it was so bad he couldn't eat.  It tears at me. 

In just a short time he lost weight, the same percentage as if I'd lost 30 pounds. The vet did all the right things, including powerful antibiotics, but when we brought him home, none of us knew if he would live out the week.

Then Bev, a family friend and a nurse, came to visit for a few nights while she spent time with her family.  She claimed Harry as her patient, sweet-talking him while she cleaned and drained his wound; through his screaming, four times in two days.  By the time she left, he was well enough to eat soft foods and take liquids by mouth.  I don't know if Harry would be here today without her.

We'd prefer smooth sailing, but the rough days are the ones that tell us who we are, the strength of our connections, and how thankful we are that we're not alone in the ocean. 

I hope there's a Bev in your life when you need her.

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Renewal

It's Spring, it's Spring, it's Spring.  

No matter if frost touches the dawn, our winged friends know it's Spring.

Our first Tiger Swallowtail butterfly appeared two weeks ago. 

Pictured last season on Texas Gold Lantana. 





And I saw the first Black Swallowtail on my walk today.

Pictured in April 2008 on lavender.








Front-runner hummingbirds began appearing exactly a week ago.  We know they're 'our' hummingbirds because they zip to the spot where the feeders were hung last year. If we're late putting the feeders out now, the birds whistle, click, and maybe swear until we hustle out to serve them.  

In the Hill Country, early season hummingbirds are mostly male Ruby-Throats.  The pioneers get the best territories.

Picture taken 8-29-08.  Note the bees on the feeder.  The drought brought them.  We were afraid the birds wouldn't come in but the hummingbirds adapted; hovering for a few seconds.  The draft from their wings scattered the bees. 

But a couple of Black-Chinned Hummingbirds showed up yesterday.  
  
Female Black-Chinned taken May 16, 2009. 



Male Black-Chinned taken May 16, 2009.  See the flash or purple in his gorget?



Wildflowers, butterflies, birds, people...we all renew in the lengthening days.

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Texas Angels

You never know what your angel will look like, or when you'll meet him.

My parents are 87 (Dad) and 84 (Mom).  This came from Mom this week:

"After church in the rain on the way to Luby's Cafeteria (out in the country because we don't voluntarily go I-35 where Lubys is)  we had a flat.  We were in the Forerunner.  

I pulled off as much of the road as I could and two wheels were in the mud.  

I was asking the Lord for wisdom when a pickup with two young men wheeled over and asked to help.  During the process of trying to locate the jacks, etc. they said their business was auto repair and they surely should be able to find it.  We finally drug out the owner's manual.  I backed the car so that the wheels were on the pavement and they could jack it up.  

When all was done we tried to pay them and they said it was their privilege because they would have wanted someone to help their father and mother in the same situation.

We are so thankful that it didn't happen at night on I-35.  God watches over us.  Yesterday, your Dad had 4 new tires put on the Forerunner."

And the young men disappeared into the night after seeing Mom and Dad on their way.  Sounds like angels to me.

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Smoldering Strand

I believe in stories.  Unseen filaments lingering in warp and woof of time and space, waiting for eyes and ears and minds.
 Last week when I picked up my CSA allotment in town, disorder littered the yard next door.  Empty space where plants stood the week before.  Wood chips and leaves scattered across the lot, and a bundle of recently-cut mottled sticks stacked close to the chain-link fence, on which there hung a hand-lettered posterboard:

"To whoever stole the wood at the curb, DON'T BURN IT.  Oleander is POISON.  The smoke will make you sick." 

I wonder. About the kind of people who take wood from someone else's yard.  Do they eat grapes at the grocery before the grapes are weighed and paid?  

The taking might have been innocent.  They thought wood stacked next to the curb was a trash day discard destined for the dump.  They'd be saving community dollars by taking it.

The street is quiet, lined with homes; the takers probably live in the neighborhood.  Did they walk by again and see the sign before the lettering ran in the rain and the homeowners took it down?  
Nights have been  cool since the sign was posted.   Did the takers burn the wood?  

Did the cat die by the fire, the children suffer seizures?

The strands stretch beyond sight, pulling.


Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Foliage Follow-Up - March 16, 2010



My favorite foliage this follow-up day is a Daylily of unknown variety.  My 84 year old mother gave me  starts from her garden last year.  She got her starts from her mother's garden, before her mother passed away in the early 1970's. 

I thought mine died in last year's extreme weather.  Mom said not to worry, they'd come back. They did.  Seeing family history out of my bedroom window is sweet.








Our two mulberry trees (species unknown, but David Will says they'll grow here and so far they are) are budding out. Three years ago, we levered boulders from the bedrock on the side of the house and planted the trees, remembering how warblers flock to fruiting mulberries in fall. Maybe this year, without the stress of drought, they'll bloom and fruit.  

I was glad to see a scattering of small Standing Cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) from a year-ago seeding in a wildish area out back.  Surprised that the deer hadn't eaten them, hopeful this year the deer will find other more palatable munchings.   
Last June hummingbirds did aerial battle over the front-yard drift of standing cypress blooms.









Black swallowtail butterflies will be flying soon, looking for hosts for the next generation, like this tiny dill, a wild annual that appears only in spring.



For more Foliage Follow-up, click on over to Digging, where Pam hosts gardens from here, there and everywhere.

Hope your spring brings renewal to you as well as the plants.

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - March 15, 2010


 In other parts of the country people celebrate the change of seasons, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall.  

In the Texas Hill Country, we celebrate June for the start of River-Tubing Season and September as the beginning of Football Season.  We endure Cedar Fever Season starting in December.  And welcome March for Wildflower Season.

This year promises the most extravagant wildflower display in decades. Drought-dormant seeds are springing to life from the bountiful rains of the past six months.  My pictures today are the early arrivers at the party.  Enjoy the promise and come back next month for the parade.

To peek into the season in gardens around the country, follow this link to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by May Dreams Gardens. 

This is our fourth spring in our Texas home, and the first time we've seen and smelled the blooms of Agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata).  Imagine a musk of clove and cinnamon mingled in roses and sandalwood; the satiation of water in the desert.  

My young Redbud trees (Cercis canadensis var texensis) made it through the drought, worse for the wear.  As they stood leafless, I wondered what spring would bring.  Blooms, my trees answered.  Juniper hairstreak enjoying the conversation.

Mounds of Prairie Verbena (Glandularlia bipinnatifida var bipinnatifida) have risen.   The Eastern Phoebe who frequents our yard will welcome the beetle.

Blooms on the Mexican Plum trees (Prunus mexicana) promise fruit this year for the birds.  The foxes would enjoy fruit too if I didn't have to fence the trees because of the deer.


But fox will have his fill of Southern Dewberries (Rubus trivialis) from the wild vines in the woodland out back.  One bloom now, thousands of buds waiting.






And the native Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is primed for spring hummingbird migration.  We'll see the first bird on March 15th if the past foretells the future.


Wherever you are, whatever your weather, I hope you're enjoying the lengthening daylight and promise of the season.



Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Flap Jacks

The Texas Hill Country is known for breeding individualism. The owners of Flap Jacks know that.  They know a person's got a right to Cathy's Cheesecake Flapjacks or Oatmeal Raisin Flapjacks or Banana-Split Flapjacks, if the spirit so moves.  Or any of the rest of the 35+ varieties on their menu.

So when I wake up on a weekend morning craving hot coffee and pancakes, if I'm not in a tiara mood, we get in the car and take ourselves to the little town of Sattler to sate the craving.
Sattler is a working town providing for seasonal tourist trade.  It looks like a string of oversized Monopoly toys thrown along a route between the playwaters of Canyon Lake and the Guadalupe River.  

Not the kind of place a body would expect a how-do-they-do-that pancake experience. Tall AND light.

The restaurant decor reminds me of grandmother's house, comfortable and cheerful.

The coffee is fresh, service thoughtful...

and the flapjacks will people your dreams.  

Footnote:  As of June 2010, Flapjacks is closed.  


Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lady Bird Day

I'm often good and sometimes lucky.  One of the lucky bits came last week when the SA Life editor for the San Antonio newspaper offered an assignment to write a short piece about the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. 

Of course I said yes; barely restrained myself from asking how much I had to pay for the privilege. 

Denny and I have been members of the Wildflower Center for years.  We joined the first time we visited.  I believe in Lady Bird's vision of nature's beauty as essential to life.  

We live a ways away so we don't go to the Center often.  I hadn't been since the members' plant sale last fall.  And I didn't wander then, just immersed myself in the plants and tried to figure out how to get everything into the back of the car.  

So I was tickled to spend most of this past rainy Sunday at the Wildflower Center.  I visited with one of the horticulturalists, a fellow Hill Country resident, who knows the plants and how to grow them.  Then I wandered the winter-sere garden.  And lapped up the lagniappe of outdoor sculpture.  

I came home damp and refreshed.  With 150+ pictures.  My excuse was that the pictures would refresh my memory for the article.  And it was the last day of a five-month outdoor sculpture exhibit, so I wouldn't get another view.  And my blogfriends would want to see the garden, even in winter and rain.

Walking from the parking lot, the path led to a sculpture in front of a stone pillar.  

Sitatunga, by artist Dan Pogue.   Power, myth and light.

When I went past at the end of the afternoon, I caught a movement from the corner of my eye.  Sitatunga.  I swear.







 


Further down the stone walkway, water tumbles from the wall into a water garden pond.


The Center has Demonstration gardens with 23 themed beds.  I focused on the Hummingbird bed.  My article hits print in mid-April when migration will be in full swing and gardeners want to plant new flowers.  I'm hoping more habitat for the birds, more joy for the gardeners.

The plot looks a little sad now but the plants will shoot up as the days warm.  The garden includes perennials Flame acanthus, Turk's cap, Coral Honeysuckle (on the arbor at back), Red salvia (greggii and coccinea), Crossvine (also on the arbor), Prairie verbena, Big Red Sage (Salvia penstemonoides), Texas Betony, and Red Yucca.  

I was tickled.  We have them all at home.

Carolina jessamine bloomed nearby.  I wondered if hummingbirds were attracted to the tubular yellow flowers.  Probably not, the nectar contains alkaloids.


The Hill Country creek garden felt like home, with plants and trees I see in our woods.








A native grass prairie had a peaceful look.  In another month the grasses will green and wildflowers shine.




Before I left, I refreshed at the Cafe.  It tasted as good as it looks.


If you've never been to the Wildflower Center, treat yourself to a day.  If you haven't been for a while, go back.   

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, TX.  (512) 232-0100.  For more information, visit http://www.wildflower.org/


Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Indulge

 

Earth laughs in flowers.           
 Ralph Waldo Emerson 

You have permission to smile...

Every day , even a gray winter Monday, is a good day to be alive.



Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mr. Guitar Texas

You can tell a culture's values by the heroes it memorializes in stone and bronze.

London has Lord Nelson, hero of the Battle of Trafalgar; Washington D.C. the Lincoln Monument to a great president.  Austin has Stevie Ray Vaughan, lord of soul-shakin' guitar.  

Stevie's been gone since 1990 but his bronze likeness casts a long shadow next to Lady Bird Lake.  And he's included in celebrations large and small.

Like Women's Heart Health day in February.  Although I believe that when he was alive, he preferred black.


 

Beer and flowers.  A barefoot wedding in the park?













Ankle flowers, a hippy kind of happy?

Words and questions for music past.












 
The legend is music.




Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quick -- Put It On Ebay

  
Last day of the month, it was still my turn to scoop.  Grumble, grumble.  

Then the miracle emerged:
 

A cat-litter patty in the shape of Texas.

Oh yes, we're livin' in the promised land...

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.